Sunday Shorts: Complex

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Article by Davo Hardy

In the four years since its release, my 26-minute film about two young men sharing an apartment has been the gift that keeps on giving. What makes it stand out? The bloke subletting the apartment is a nudist.

Complex is a comedic celebration of non-sexual social nudity (with a sex scene thrown in for comparative context) at a time when the subversive hipster culture was just starting out. It melds sight gags, psychology and a self-aware commentary on the contradictions of nudity in contemporary society.

Shot over a weekend in December 2013, taking place mostly within a two-bedroom apartment in Ryde (but set in the lower North Shore of Sydney), this film was a breakout project for me. First and foremost, at the time, I had absolutely nothing to lose as a filmmaker. I had no reputation to uphold and restrain myself as an artist, but it also made it difficult to win the trust of actors in the early casting stages. Basically, nobody cared enough to get behind me or try to stop me, which is the blessing and curse that befalls all first-time filmmakers.

Complex was the first time I set out to make an impact and tell a story that meant something to me. Prior to its creation, I had been working in disability services and two particularly interesting people lead to my earliest short films Bingo (about a talented Scrabble player with multiple sclerosis) and Last Night (about feuding flatmates, with the majority of the dialogue carried out in sign language).

Kat Campbell on the set of Complex.

For Complex, I was ready to develop the Davo Hardy brand. Having been a life model since my teens and generally always open about my own clothing-optional lifestyle, I was taking the “write about what you know” rule to a whole new level and its target audience was firmly in mind while I was writing it.

Of my many naturist friends, I had a couple who were distinguished psychologists and over a few bottles of red one night, we “fleshed-out” the characters of Lachlan and Travis; two polar-opposite men and their intense arguments over the acceptability of nudity, which occurs at the film’s midpoint.

The thing with unabashed nudity, especially when its non-sexual, is that one genuinely forgets its there after a while. The titillation and deviant fantasy of it all doesn’t sustain for very long and then there’s that profoundly humbling moment when you realize that everybody kinda looks the same. And it’s okay to look, that’s biology. But when it came time to casting for the roles, I was determined to cast actors who were as “normal” as I could muster.

This was the first time I was casting actors who would need to push their comfort zones and uphold a certain degree of artistic integrity. I needed them to be interesting, but not overpoweringly unique. I needed them to be talented actors, who would come across as natural, everyday people.

Casting for Lachlan, the outspoken young nudist, was especially difficult, simply because the majority of people applying for the role were too old (a blessing that comes with getting older; you have less hangups) or they were too good-looking. I suppose being Abercrombie & Fitch would carry an impressive level of confidence, not that I’d know.

There was one applicant who had been in the cast of “Naked Boys Singing” at the Seymour Centre the year before and while this assured me that he would be a talented performer who would bare all for his craft, he was just too chiselled and hunky to play the character I had written.

Dan Monty in Complex.

Among true nudists is the value of “warts and all”, which was a strong production note I made for myself. I wanted to cast people who were not models. The power of nudism is that it can provide liberating body-confidence to anybody. So, the actors would need to reflect that. The gamble was that everyday audiences would see more of themselves in the characters. Mind you, this is the same mentality that gave Ron Jeremy his career in an industry geared towards flawless beauty, so I was hardly a trailblazer.

Of course, I got loads of applicants, but as the short-listed candidates began to realize that I was not indulging in the “strategically placed fruit bowl” style of filming and that it was counter-intuitive to do a film about nudism without actually getting naked, I faced an impressive wall of drop-outs. Determined and resourceful, I was saved by Dan Monty, who I met in a Facebook forum just a day or two prior to shooting. He was everything the character was meant to be and though he was not an actor, per se, he was willing and eager to bring his best performance to the role.

Many of the cast and crew have followed me into my feature films. Georgina Neville has appeared in almost everything I’ve made and I attribute that to the time she approached me, nominating herself for a role in Complex and unflinchingly tackling the role of the short, stocky naked chick. She had perfect comedic timing and complete trust in me as the director to film her scenes respectfully. Her career has not suffered a blow from taking the part and she’s never distanced herself from daring to play a nudist, which is the exact attitude I wanted from my cast. It was a gift that each and every one of them shared this mindset and I think that was the most bonding part of all.

The DVD release was a huge success. At first people struggled with how to label Complex, as most other films involving two men hanging out nude together fall swiftly into the LGBT category, but I stress the point that both characters are actively heterosexual and took every opportunity to reinforce that.

It was the first film I saw a royalty cheque for and I still get them to this day. I have experienced the joy of making a film which makes a profit on its returns and it still gets mentions in nudist circles the world over.

These days I have a higher standard of production and product output and my abilities as an writer, director and editor have taken leaps and bounds to the point where, despite its success, I like to preface “Complex” as being “my early work”. But I am constantly proud of it and comforted by the reaction it gets at festivals and screenings.

It’s a film about bonding, compromise and getting your junk out. What’s not to love?

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